This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on April 24th, 2017 – just after the first round of voting in the French Presidential election when Macron and Le Pen emerged as the two front runners in Round Two: www.broadsheet.ie/le-pen-and-now
You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief last night as the first exit poll results from the French presidential election emerged showing Emmanuel Macron as the front runner. Macron, the former Economy Minister under Socialist President Francois Hollande and now independent centrist candidate now faces off against the second placed right-winger, Marine Le Pen in round two of the election in two weeks’ time.
It wasn’t just EU officials and other EU heads of government who were relieved, but also the heads of the polling companies whose predictions turned out to be extraordinary accurate, in many cases within just 1% of the result.
That sense of relief continued into this morning with European stock markets rallying and the Euro rising to a five-month peak with the news that France is likely to have a more centrist pro-EU President Emmanuel Macron.
Only a month ago the polls suggested that Le Pen might emerge as the lead candidate in the first round followed by Macron, with some showing Le Pen as high as 27% and Macron around 25%. However; the collapse in recent weeks of the socialist party candidate Hamon saw the far left’s Melechon rally and join the leading pack, consisting of Le Pen, Macron and the conservative candidate Fillon, all within 3-4% of each other.
This column originally appeared on Broadsheet.ie on May 8th 2017 and suggests that Fine Gael will come to regret dumping Enda Kenny as Taoiseach and leader as speedily as they have…www.broadsheet.ie/well-miss-him-eventually/
“But as I leave you I want you to know – just think how much you’re going to be missing. You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore”
With these words, Richard Nixon departed the political scene, well almost. It was November 7th, 1962. He was concluding what he assumed would be his last ever political press conference after losing the race to become Governor of California. Two years earlier he had narrowly lost the Presidency to John F Kennedy.
While Enda Kenny’s departure, when it comes – possibly over the next week or two – will not be as bitter and waspish as Tricky Dicky’s, there may just be the slightest hint of the same sentiment: just think what we will potentially be missing.
Love him or loathe him, during his time as Taoiseach Enda has been anything but colourless or bland. For all his faults and failings, he showed quickly that he realised that one of the main roles of any Taoiseach is re-assuring the public that there is someone with a plan in charge.
He also grasped that this role as the nation’s re-assurer-in-chief requires you to get out and about and meet people as much as possible. In some ways, Enda has spent the past six years doing a passable Bertie Ahern impression.
Enda Kenny’s fascination with his predecessor John A. Costello continues. Not only is Enda determined to beat Costello’s record for time served as Taoiseach, he now seems to want to eclipse Costello’s penchant from making major constitutional announcements outside the country.
Costello announced his intention for Ireland to abandon the External Relations Act (and effectively quit the British Commonwealth and declare itself Republic) during a visit to Canada in 1948, while Kenny announces in Philadelphia that he intends to hold a referendum to give the Irish diaspora votes in future Irish presidential elections – but only in elections after the next one.
There are many legends about Costello’s Ottawa announcement, including one version that claims he made it when was “tired and emotional” and another that asserts he did it after being offended by the placing of a replica of the Roaring Meg canon used in the Siege of Derry in front of him on the dining table at a formal dinner at the Governor General’s residence. But they are only legends.
Yesterday was a busy media day for Sinn Féin’s Deputy Leader, Mary Lou MacDonald. Within the space of an hour she had appeared on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics and BBC 1’s Sunday Politics.
Mary Lou was doing what she does better than anyone else in Sinn Féin: taking no prisoners, firmly holding the party line and all without seeming unduly hostile or aggressive.
During the course of her one-on-one interview with BBC Northern Ireland’s Mark Carruthers; Mary Lou described Sinn Féin as being a party “in transition”. Given the context this was a reference to either: the potential for generational change in the Sinn Féin leadership or, to Sinn Féin’s ambition to be more seen as a potential party of government.
Perhaps it was a reference to both – either way, I am sure Mary Lou meant the phrase to convey the sense of a political party undergoing change and development.
I happen to agree that Sinn Féin is “in transition”, except that the transition I believe it is undergoing is into becoming a normal political party. It is a transition that it has been undergoing for some time, with varying degrees of success, but it is still an ongoing process.
Sinn Féin is not so much a “party in transition” as it is “transitioning into a party”.
The party leadership is an obvious example. It is not the only example. Normal political parties do not have T.D.s collecting convicted Garda killers from prison upon their release, nor do they hail convicted tax evaders as “good republicans”, but for the purposes of this piece, let’s just focus on the autocratic nature of Sinn Fein’s leadership.
Though he is over thirty-three years in the role, we are expected to believe that no one over that time in Sinn Féin has ever been unhappy with Gerry Adams’ leadership or ever willing to challenge openly it.
For most of those 33 years obedience to the leadership of Adams and McGuinness has been a core principle – one that seemed to trump everything else. But as the fictitious Chief Whip, Francis Urquhart, observes in the opening sequence of House of Cards: “Nothing lasts forever. Even the longest, the most glittering reign must come to an end someday.”
The blind obedience has started to slip over recent years. From the resignations of various Councillors North and South in the years after the 2007 election to more recent murmurings, including the resignations of 18 SF members in North Antrim in protest at the manner in which a replacement MLA was appointed and the Chair of Sinn Fein’s Virginia-Mullagh Cumann writing to the Irish News to say it was time for Adams to step down.
Even the most disciplined and united of political parties have various groups or factions not entirely happy with the leader. Our post popular and electorally successful party leaders like Jack Lynch, Garret Fitzgerald or Bertie Ahern have had their internal party critics, even at times when their leadership seemed at its most secure and assured.
They either feel the leader is too progressive or too conservative, too weak or too strong, or they believe that their personal talents and skills may be better recognised if there was a new leader in place.
These stresses and pressures are customary in a normal political party. They are the forces that keep a political party democratic. They are also forces that grow over time, particularly after a leader has been in place for a decade or more. They
Now, after over three decades of Gerry Adams’ leadership, it seems that Sinn Féin has a plan to do what other political parties do routinely and relatively seamlessly: change leader.
Except in Sinn Féin’s case it is a “secret” plan. Even the current Sinn Féin Deputy Leader concedes that she does not know what precisely is in this plan.
In most political parties the process for electing a new leader is transparent. People can see how potential leadership candidates are nominated and who has a vote in electing the new leader.
In some cases, this is done by an electoral college such as in Fine Gael where members of the parliamentary party have 65% of the votes; party members 25% and county councillors 10% or, as in the case of the Labour Party, it is done via a one member one vote system with all valid party members having a vote – though as we saw in the recent contest only the parliamentary party can nominate the candidates.
How will it happen in Sinn Féin? The stock answer from Adams and others is that the Sinn Féin Árd Fheis will decide, but how will that play out? Will it really decide? Will there be a real contest with rival candidates travelling to constituencies to meet those voting in the leadership election and set out their competing visions.
Or, will a new leader ‘emerge’, as the British Tory party leaders once did, following the intervention of a group of shadowy figures in Belfast with that decision gaining the semblance of democratic authority with a set-piece ratification at an Árd Fheis.
While I won’t hold my breath waiting for that change of leadership to actually happen, I am also a political realist and recognise that asking any leader to be specific as to when they plan to stand aside is to ask them to surrender their leadership at that moment.
How Sinn Féin conducts the change of leadership, whenever it happens, will be a major test of its transition. It will determine if the transition is merely an illusion or it is a sincere and genuine attempt to become a real political party.
Though I am clearly no fan of Sinn Féin, I believe that it is more the latter than the former, particularly as the organisation takes on new members and is compelled to allow more internal debate. Time will tell if I am right to be so optimistic.
This comes as no surprise. After the tumult and turmoil of the past few years it would require a hopefulness that bordered on the foolhardy to expect to hear anything even vaguely complimentary said about the system.
At so many levels, it failed us. The institutional accountability and oversight that we thought would prevent bank and financial crashes proved inadequate at best, and downright mendacious at worst.
It is a failure that reaches beyond the crash and extends right up to the present day with so many people seeing the present recovery as something that is happening in communities and areas other than theirs.
This feeling that is not unique to Ireland. We see echoes of it in the Brexit result in the U.K. with the high numbers of people in the former industrial heartlands of the midlands and the north of England voting to leave the EU.
This piece first appeared two weeks ago on Broadsheet.ie in the aftermath of the appalling events in Pulse nightcub in Orlando, Florida- link: broadsheet.ie/2016/06/13
When faced with a massive tragedy the natural inclination of most democratic political leaders, from across the spectrum, is to put partisan politics aside for a time and stand together in solidarity and grief.
Campaigns are put on hiatus, genuine political differences are temporarily put aside while the country mourns and tries to cope with the enormity of what has befallen it.
It is what happened in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in France and in Belgium and countless times in the USA in the aftermath of yet another mass slaying of innocent victims.
Yet, last night, even before the names and details of the 50 men and women callously slaughtered in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlanda had been released, the Republican Party’s presumptive candidate for the U.S. Presidency chose to take the other route, going was online to whip up anger and score political points off the worst instance of US domestic terrorism.
“Donald Trump looks as if he was playing a President in a porn movie.” This was Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle’s scathing put down of the Donald on BBC radio four’s News Quiz last Friday.
Maybe it is something to do with the Donald’s addiction to calling everything ‘huge’ (or as he says it: huuuuuge ) and lauding his own achievements with outlandish superlatives but Boyle’s taunt perfectly captures Trump’s OTT and hammy public appearances.
Trump’s emergence as a real contender for the White House has surprised most pundits including – if one of his former publicists is to be believed – himself.
How could this gauche, egotistical, property dealing demagogue tear up the US presidential campaign playbook and beat a string of long established Republican hopefuls?
Hard though we may find it to comprehend from this side of the Atlantic; but part of the Trump phenomenon is that he has teed-up this US presidential election to be a fight between the Washington insider: Hillary Clinton and the outsider: Trump.
I have now updated my initial thoughts, musings, observations and mild rantings on the implications of the local election results, particularly Fianna Fáil’s stronger than expected showing.
This was first posted on Sunday morning – updated on Monday morning to reflect the revised party national totals in the Local Elections.
“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” – George Bernard Shaw.
Quite a lot, it seems.
Yesterday we saw history repeating itself, with the electorate visiting upon Fine Gael and Labour almost exactly the same devastating blow it had served up to Fianna Fáil and Labour five years earlier.
In 2009 Fianna Fáil lost around 39% of its support (when compared with 2007) while the Greens endured a massive reduction in its vote of 76%.
Yesterday, based on the Local Election results to hand, Fine Gael lost 34% of its support and Labour lost 63%.
While the story of the Local Elections is the rise in support for Sinn Féin and the Independents and the scale of the loss for Labour, the Fine Gael haemorrhaging of support should not be ignored.
Indeed, the case can be made that the real story of the election is this massive Fine Gael loss – a loss that should not be glossed over by what might appear to be its reasonable performance in the European Elections.
Losing 100 plus Councillors, on a day when you have increased the number of available council seats, is a political meltdown of Fianna Fáil in 2009 proportions. It will send a shiver around the Fine Gael backbenches that will match that currently coursing along the spines of their Labour colleagues.
Leo Varadkar’s line that the next election will be a battle between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin was a clever attempt to calm the troops with the notion that their lost support will come back when the Irish voters realise that Fine Gael is all that stands between them and the Shinners.
It’s clever line, but a flawed one.
For it to offer any comfort it would need to be underpinned by Fine Gael still remaining the largest party – but it hasn’t. By the time the dust settles it will become clear that the other big story of the locals is the return to frontline politics of Fianna Fáil, even if its European results are a bit rocky.
If the battle of the next election is, as Varadkar suggests, to be fought on the question of where you stand with regard to Sinn Féin then Fianna Fáil, with a few more weapons in its armoury, is standing on better – and now even firmer – ground than the depleted followers of Enda.
While Fine Gael may see itself as the antithesis of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil can challenge SF’s voodoo economics every bit as credibly as FG, but with the added bonus that that can better undermine and dismantle the Shinner’s fallacious claim to Republicanism, especially in its back yard.
The other story of the Fianna Fáil result is its incredible variety. Its national level of support at just over 25% belies some very good and incredibly bad local results, especially in urban centres.
They range from the sublime such as its 49% in Bailieborough-Coothall 39% in Castlecomer and 38.4% in Ballymote-Tobercurry to the ridiculous: such as its 4.9% in Dublin North Inner City, 6.8% in Tallaght South and 8.7% in Lucan.
While there are several other disappointing low teen results in urban centres across the country e.g 9.6% in Waterford City South, 10.5% in Bray and 13% in Limerick City North, it is no coincidence that the single digit performances are in Dublin.
That is not to say that the Capital is a wasteland for Fianna Fail. Contrast the single performance mentioned above with the parties stunning 27.3% in Castleknock, its 24.2% in Clontarf and its 22.3% in Stillorgan.
While the overall Dublin result of 16% points to a major problem for the party, the variety in results, highlighted above, shows Fianna Fáil’s further potential for growth and renewal in large swathes of Dublin.
It is the very patchiness of its result that points up where the party needs to work harder and better. Far too many candidates in Dublin were left to struggle on by themselves with no structured national campaign to underpin their efforts.
Having “Fianna Fáil” on your poster does not guarantee a good new candidate a certain base level of support in Dublin and other urban centres in the same way as having “Sinn Féin” on your poster did for their new first time candidates. Indeed it does not offer the prospect of that base level of support as it does in non-urban Ireland.
The candidates in Dublin raised the Fianna Fáil vote to their level, not the other way around. The vote in Dublin and other urban centres, is not the party vote plus the candidate’s unique personal support – it is just the latter. In certain parts of the city is it the unique personal support minus the residual antagonism to Fianna Fáil.
The “Fianna Fáil” identity is Dublin is not a coherent identity based on a core defining message from the party as a national political party: it is the collective identities of its various candidates.
This is not to underestimate the particular nature of Dublin voters, especially their looser party allegiances; it is just to point out that Dublin voters are just as likely to be receptive to a national message, just less continuously loyal to it.
Despite some clearly very good results in Dublin, most Fianna Fáil supporters still struggle to answer the questions: why should I vote Fianna Fáil and what does Fianna Fáil stand for. Most of the successful candidates I have encountered in Dublin answer it with the words: here is what I stand for…
It is not that there are not answers to these questions, but rather that the party has not sufficiently defined and substantiated them.
It is work that can and must be done. That work is not aided or encouraged by intemperate outbursts or Quixotic threatened heaves. The issues are policy and organisation – not personality.
The 24.3% of voters who abandoned Fine Gael and Labour saw their political alternatives this week. Some said independents, some said Sinn Féin – though not by a large margin as the swing to Sinn Féin since the 2011 election is in the 5.3%, but even more said Fianna Fáil with a swing of just over 8%, but the point should not be lost that the biggest single section of them said: none of the above.
The ones who stayed at home are the ones who were badly let down by Fianna Fáil and are now just as angry with Fine Gael and Labour for promising them a new politics and then delivering the old failed politics as usual.
Perhaps they concluded that they could afford to sit out these second order elections, as they do not see how the results will change their lives, they will not be as sanguine at the next election.
While there are worse jobs in the world: the worst job in politics is certainly leader of the opposition.
If he didn’t already know this, it is certain that Fianna Fáil’s leader Micheal Martin will know this in just over a week.
The 2014 European and Local Election campaigns for which he and his HQ team have prepared and planned for over 18 months are proving themselves to be a source of unalloyed joy. It is hard to believe that these are the campaigns they wanted.
The latest round of opinion poll findings only confirm this. They suggest that
His Dublin Euro candidate will fail to take the seat
His Midlands North West duo may struggle to win a seat
While his Ireland South candidates have the best part of two quotas between but are so imbalanced as to render a second seat impossible.
If the ballots cast on Friday confirm these poll findings, then it will be hard to make any of this sound like an achievement.
Here is a piece I wrote for the BEERG weekly newsletter just over two weeks ago. Sorry for the delay in posting this on here.
BEERG’s Derek Mooney writes: With just three weeks to go to voting for the European Parliament elections across Europe it seems that the “don’t knows” may be the winners.
While campaigning is stepping up across Europe and despite a major push from the EU to drive up voter turnout, most polling forecasts suggest that turnout in the 2014 EU parliament elections will drop below the 46% turnout achieved in 2009, with young voters particularly disinterested in electing MEPs.
Open Europe has produced a detailed briefing paper http://goo.gl/7LndzP in which it suggests that a surge in support across the EU for populist anti-EU, anti-austerity, anti-immigrant and anti-establishment parties, could see them win up to 31% of the vote in May.
Couple this strong showing from these parties with another low turnout and, Open Europe estimates, that 74.4% of all voters across Europe will have voted against the EU, for radical change, or not bothered to vote at all. This means that only 25.6% of all eligible voters will have actually come out and voted in favour of parties that broadly support the status quo or favour or more integration.
While these status quo/centrist parties, mainly the EPP, S&D and ALDE will see their aggregate share of the vote decrease, it does not necessarily mean that they will lose their grip on Parliament. While these “fringe” parties will do well in what is widely considered a “second order” election – i.e. not that important to voters’ day to day concerns and a means of registering a protest – these parties are not a coherent group. They span the political spectrum from far left to far right and differ as much from each other as they do from the parties of the centre. The latest forecast suggests that the far right’s Le Pen and Wilders will have enough MEPs from enough member states to form a group: with approximately 38 MEPs from 7 member states.
The net impact of these divergent political trends, Open Europe suggests, is that we paradoxically end up with a more integrationist EU Parliament. It argues that moderate parties (i.e. ones that believe the EU is in need of fundamental reform) will lose out to anti EU parties and this dynamic will reinforce what it terms “the corporatist tendency” of the two main groups (the centre Right EPP and centre left S&D) to freeze out the anti-EU MEPs by binding the Parliament and Commission closer together in pushing an integrationist, Brussels-focused agenda.
The most recent PollWatch2014 prediction of the outcome of the 2014 European Parliament elections suggests that centre-right EPP group and the centre-left S&D group are neck and neck. While previous polls (such as the one I posted here recently) had indicated a slight S&D majority in the new parliament PollWatch now predicts the EPP to pull ahead – with the EPP now forecast to win 222 seats, and the S&D Group 209. Past PollWatch predictions were in the region of 98% correct
It also estimates, based on recent polling data across the EU, that the number of MEPs who could be identified as supporting free market policies is also expected to fall from 242 to 206. Amongst other this this would be bad news for David Cameron, as the incoming Parliament will effectively have a veto over some of many of the EU reforms he seeks.
Cameron’s best hope for his reforms, lies, it seems in the EU Council, but only if he can get other leaders on board and secure agreement in nominating a pro-competitiveness Commission in the autumn.
Meanwhile the candidates for the Commission Presidency had the first of their two live TV debates on EuroNews last Monday. On the podium were (pictured from left to right) the ex-Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt (for the Liberals/ALDE): the outgoing European Parliament chief Martin Schulz (from the centre-left S&D), the Greens Ska Keller MEP and the former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker (of the centre-right EPP),
A snap online poll conducted by Europe Decides judged Verhofstadt the debate winner with 55% and placed Juncker, the current front runner for the post, last with a paltry 9%. Most commentators felt the debate was short of any firm or details proposals.
Juncker said that he wanted “a serious Europe. A Europe that doesn’t dream, but gets things done”. During the course of the debate, the former chairman of the Eurogroup that oversaw the tough bailout programmes for Greece, Ireland and Portugal, called for a legal minimum wage across the EU.
Schulz’s promised “to give back justice and fairness” and to create “a Europe of citizens not of banks and speculators” pledging to publish the Commission’s negotiating mandate on the ongoing trade talks with United States.
Verhofstadt said that the EU needed “less internal market regulation, but more common policies” arguing that “the crisis and unemployment” had turned young people against the EU.
At one point Verhofstadt said his model for Commission president was Jacques Delors, causing Martin Schulz to point out that Delors was a Socialist.
The issue of how the next Commission President would be selected also came up. As the nominees of the two largest groups, Juncker and Schulz are keen to avoid any last minute negotiations that might lead to another name entering at the last minute as a compromise.
Schulz said that stitching-up the Commission presidency via a back-room deal would reduce the elections to “a little game” while Verhofstadt said that not choosing one of the formal candidates (i.e. ones already nominated) would be “unthinkable”.
On 27 May, after the election results are known, the EU Parliament President and the group leaders in the parliament will meet together to discuss the results. Their discussions will feed into deliberations by EU government leaders who will meet later that day to decide who to nominate for Commission President.